Saturday, March 8, 2014
BY PAUL BETIT
Portland Press Herald
Peter Ladd has a good idea of what Mark Rogers will feel when he starts on the mound for the first time in a Major League Baseball game Friday night.
Mark Rogers delivers a pitch during a relief effort for the Milwaukee Brewers. Rogers has not allowed a hit in two innings of work and will get to start Friday's game in Milwaukee against the Florida Marlins.
"Excitement," said Ladd, who played Little League baseball in his native Portland before his family moved to Georgia. "I'm so excited for him because it's just an unbelievable feeling."
Rogers, a hard-throwing right-hander from Orr's Island, is scheduled to make his first start in a major league uniform against the Florida Marlins at Miller Park.
"He's gotten to what his dream has always been, to make it to the major leagues," said Ladd, who spent four of his six major league seasons with the Brewers as a relief pitcher.
Rogers' first start for Milwaukee comes more than six years after the Brewers made him their first pick in the 2004 amateur baseball draft.
His arrival to the major leagues was delayed by shoulder surgeries, which forced him to miss more than two minor league seasons.
"A lot of kids would have given up and said, 'The heck with this,' but he continued on," said Ladd, who lives in New Gloucester and works for Hancock Lumber. "I've followed what he's been doing, and I'm just very happy for him. He's come through a lot."
When the 23-year-old Rogers takes the mound Friday night he will join a pretty exclusive club. Only 13 other Maine-born pitchers have started a Major League Baseball game since the end of World War II.
Billy Swift, who spent 13 years in the major leagues after starring at South Portland High and the University of Maine, knows exactly what Rogers is going through.
"As a reliever, you don't have time to think because you don't know when you're going to pitch," said Swift, who now lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz. "As a starter, you do have time to think because you know exactly when you're going to pitch. It gets nerve-wracking. You definitely get nervous."
Since Rogers was added to the Milwaukee roster on Sept. 10, he has pitched two innings of perfect relief.
"It's nice his first start is at home," Swift said. "He's gotten use to the mound. He's in familiar territory. He can study some game tapes and watch guys hit. If he does his job, he'll be fine."
Jim Beattie, a Virginia native who grew up in South Portland, said Rogers is probably better prepared for his first start than he was when he made his first start with the New York Yankees on April 25, 1978.
"He's probably got his mechanics in better shape then when I was 23 coming up," said Beattie, who now works as a professional scout for the Toronto Blue Jays. "I was a big tall guy who threw hard and had no idea where the ball was going."
Ladd, who was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year, made only one start for the Brewers. It was in 1984 against the Baltimore Orioles at old Memorial Stadium.
During his four innings on the mound, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. hit long home runs off him, Ladd recalled.
"I don't know of anybody who started the game from the stretch, but I did," he said. "I didn't know how to wind up. I hadn't done that since college."
Beattie's first start in the major leagues also came against the Orioles.
"I pitched against Baltimore in Memorial Stadium and I beat Jim Palmer, which I never let him forget," said Beattie, who served as the Baltimore general manager for two years. "I remember the first pitch I threw was a double down the left-field line by Al Bumbry, but he didn't score. I can't remember how far I went, but I think we won 6-4."
Swift, who went 21-8 for the San Francisco Giants in 1993, doesn't remember much about his first start with the Seattle Mariners on June 7, 1985.
"It was in Cleveland, and I came up from Double-A," he said. "I was really scared. It was one of those things where I got thrown into a game. It was raining. It was cold. And it was in Cleveland, and there was nobody there."
Rogers won't be alone when he pitches Friday night. A contingent from Maine will be at Miller Park to cheer him on.
"There are a lot of people from Maine who are going out," said Stephanie Rogers, his mother. "Different people. People he went to school with, coaches. Aunts and uncles. His grandmother."
Two weeks ago, Stephanie Rogers saw her son pitch in relief in a 4-0 loss against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park.
"I was there for that one inning," she said. "I was very happy and very excited because he's worked very, very hard to get here."